Sandy • Jeff Cassar was jetting in and out of the Lone Star state in 1996, his rookie season with Major League Soccer’s Dallas Burn. The eighth overall pick in the ’96 MLS Draft, Cassar was holding down fort in goal for the U.S. Olympic team throughout much of the season.
But he remembers that L.A. Galaxy team. Cassar recalls tracking Cobi Jones, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Robin Fraser and Jorge Campos storm out of the gates, winning their first 12 matches of the 1996 season.
“You just look at their team,” Cassar said, “and they had fantastic players.”
Eighteen years later, Real Salt Lake is slowly, but surely creeping up on some of the best starts in MLS history. While the ’96 Galaxy started with 12 straight wins, the 2010 Galaxy went 12 straight unbeaten. It started that campaign 10-0-2 as did the Kansas City Wizards of 2000.
Entering Saturday’s match with Vancouver at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL sits at 3-0-4, obviously nowhere close to 12 consecutive wins L.A. had during Cassar’s rookie year in the MLS. Yet, despite a stellar start in Cassar’s first year as head coach, players have said they haven’t entertained the thought of approaching any league record.
“It’s too early in the season to even be worried about it,” said midfielder Sebastian Velasquez. “[The talk] comes natural. Obviously, if we get an opportunity to try and keep rolling with this unbeaten streak, we’ll take advantage of it. We want to beat any record we can, that’s how it is in football … but it all comes through the season and comes at a natural pace.”
The 2014 start could be viewed and interpreted as the club’s best to date, and it couldn’t. RSL started 5-1-1 in 2011 and 5-2-0 in 2012, each start winning five of its first seven. This year, the club has solidified three points at home and on the road, while earning vital draws, like its 0-0 undermanned result at Sporting Kansas City, and enduring disappointing one-point outings in losing late leads at San Jose and Philadelphia.
“There’s a little something to it,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said of RSL’s unblemished first seven. “We obviously want to get results all the time. We’ve had a pretty good start to the season, we’ve been really competitive and found ways to get results in different ways, but as far as [the unbeaten streak] goes, there’s no thought process into it as far as trying to beat a record or keep going.”
Cassar said remaining unbeaten this far into the start of a season creates positive chatter, giving RSL an opportunity to shoulder along momentum for as long as it will allow.
“At the end of the day, we can’t do too much about it,” he said. “We just keep preparing, keep having the right mindset and anytime we’re at home we always want to get a win. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m really not thinking about it too much.”
Week to week. Game by game. Step by step.
As Cassar has preached since taking over, one of his main goals of maintaining the MLS Cup contender was to quell the highs and maneuver through the lows. Grabavoy knows there will come a time when the group is tested by a dip in form and results.
“We put in work each day in training, whether we’ve won or lost the week before,” he said. “We’re never too high or low, we don’t get too emotional week to week and we just focus on the next game at hand. I just think this group understands that.”
Should points come RSL’s way against the Whitecaps Saturday night, it’ll inch continue to closer the record. Back-to-back road games follow at Chicago and Houston, certainly a test for any team in MLS, and RSL will likely see at least three stars depart for World Cup camps in mid-May. Which leaves a hypothetical chase — whether acknowledged or not — in limbo with Colorado, FC Dallas and Seattle lurking on the schedule afterward.
“Once the weekend comes,” Velasquez said, “we know that for 90 minutes we have to prove that we’re the best team in the league.”
Off and running •
RSL is 3-0-4 this season. Here are the best starts to a season in MLS history:
12 games without a loss
• 1996 Los Angeles Galaxy (12-0-0)
• 2010 Los Angeles Galaxy (10-0-2)
• 2000 Kansas City Wizards (10-0-2)
11 games without a loss
• 2005 New England Revolution (7-0-4)
• 2000 L.A. Galaxy (6-0-5)
• 2009 Chicago Fire (5-0-6)
9 games without a loss
• 1998 L.A. Galaxy (9-0-0)
8 games without a loss
• 2010 Columbus Crew (6-0-2)
Source • Elias Sports Bureau, official statistician of MLS
Vancouver at RSL
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy Kickoff • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • CW30 Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 3-0-4; Vancouver 2-2-3
Last meeting • RSL 1, Vancouver 0 (Sept. 28)
About RSL • Looks to join the ranks of longest unbeaten streaks to start an MLS season; a win or a tie would put the club tied with the fourth-longest unbeaten start ever. … Goalkeeper Nick Rimando sits at 111 career regular-season shutouts after his clean sheet against Portland last week, one shy of the all-time record held by retired goalkeeper Kevin Hartman at 112. … Saturday’s match could be the last time Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio play at Rio Tinto before departing for respective World Cup camps.
About Vancouver • Enters Saturday’s match 2-2-3, with nine points and in fifth place in the Western Conference. … Offensive stars Pedro Morales, Darren Mattocks, Kenny Miller and Kekuta Manneh have combined for eight goals in seven matches for the Whitecaps in 2014. … Manneh scored an 86th minute equalizer against L.A. last week to earn a 2-2 draw at BC Place. … Per the team website, midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker could miss the match Saturday night with the flu.… Mattocks’ speed up top could stretch the RSL back line as the Jamaican international has two goals and three assists early on in 2014.